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Type: Theses
Title: For the sentiment: emotions as practice in the development of eighteenth-century British abolitionism
Author: Chiro, Stefania
Issue Date: 2017
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : English and Creative Writing
Abstract: At the end of the eighteenth century the British movement for the abolition of the slave trade emerged, arguing for reform based on notions of humanity and the fellow-feeling of mutual sympathy. With slavery still one of the biggest and most profitable crimes in the world today, how public sentiment was mobilised to create the first humanitarian movement to attempt to put an end to the slave trade remains a pertinent question. The chief aim of this thesis is to investigate the development of abolitionist emotional norms, evidenced in their mobilising materials, through an exploration of “emotional practices”, Monique Scheer’s concept for historical change in emotions. This approach, when combined with Barbara Rosenwein’s concept of “emotional communities” and the rescripting of emotional norms, opens up the possibility of engaging with abolitionist texts in a new way, giving access to the methodology behind their politically engaged appeals to emotions like compassion and benevolence. Through analysis of the sentimental arguments employed across a range of texts, written both before and during the abolition campaigns, I uncover the centrality of the idea of emotional cultivation and improvement to the political agenda of abolitionist writers. In doing so I argue that there is a congruence between eighteenth-century theories of potentially transformative moral sentiments and the assumptions about the plasticity of human nature and emotions that informs emotions as a kind of practice. However, I do so while acknowledging that there are fundamental eschatological and teleological differences between the two. The politics of sympathy expressed by abolitionist academics, newspaper correspondents, preachers and divines, writers of fiction, and poets had an educative, progressivist, moral purpose which post-Romantic theories of emotions have revised or discarded. Through their conviction that steady cultivation of the moral sentiments led to active and virtuous reform of society, abolitionists give their own account of the historical and emotional changes that saw communities within Britain come together to fight for abolition. Their conviction in the efficacy of their politics of sympathy may have wavered once their attempts at sentimental moral persuasion failed in the combative context of parliamentary debate. However, the question for my thesis is not whether emotional practice can answer why abolitionism developed or why it did or did not succeed. Rather, the question I ask is whether an emotions-as-practice approach can give an effective account of the methods by which communities manage emotions and how they understand the emotional shifts which contribute, alongside other socio- and cultural historic factors, to social change.
Advisor: Kerr, Heather Beviss
Nettelbeck, Amanda E.
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2018
Keywords: Sentiment
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